LONG, James Joseph (1870–1932)
Senator for Tasmania, 1910–18 (Labor Party)

James Joseph (Big Jim) Long, miner, was born at Hamilton-on-Forth, on Tasmania’s north-west coast, in 1870, the son of Patrick, a farmer, and Maria, née Hannan. James was educated to primary level and at an early age joined those who sought their fortunes on the burgeoning west coast mine fields, first as prospector and later as mine employee. While on the coast, Long was active in the Amalgamated Miners’ Association (AMA) and the Federated Mining Engine Drivers’ Association, becoming president of, and organiser for, the AMA.

Long was a member of the Tasmanian Workers’ Political League, a forerunner of the Tasmanian ALP. In 1903, he attended the League’s first conference in Hobart as a delegate of the Lyell AMA and was appointed to the conference’s finance committee. In the same year, he was pre-selected by the west coast League for the electorate of Lyell, and subsequently elected to the Tasmanian House of Assembly. Long supplemented his income by continuing to work for the Mt Lyell Company. The company was determined to withstand the AMA’s demands for higher wages and the new MHA was dismissed because, in the words of its general manager, Robert Sticht, Long was seen as ‘an undesirable character of bad repute’. The fiery Long and a number of other ‘perniciously inclined influences’ were blacklisted on the coast, causing the Mt Lyell miners to make Long an ostentatious presentation of a gold medal: ‘To commemorate his dismissal from the mine for being a Labour MP.’[1]

While a Member of the Assembly, Long, who supported a motion for the establishment of a Tasmanian Hansard, served on the royal commission investigating wage and wage earners in Tasmania (1906–07). He was one of two commissioners who added to the report a brief conclusion, which demanded ‘that a fair price should be paid for human labour’. (The third commissioner disassociated himself from this view.) Long followed up the report with a motion in the House of Assembly (lost by fourteen votes to twelve), which recommended that the Government introduce industrial legislation for regulating pay and hours of service. Long was also a member of the controversial royal commission that inquired into the Tasmanian education department (1908–09). He went on to serve as Minister of Lands and Works, Minister for Mines and Minister for Agriculture in Tasmania’s first Labor Government—the ‘one-week only’ Ministry of John Earle in 1909.[2]

Long held Lyell continuously until 1909, when he was elected for Darwin. He resigned to successfully contest a seat in the Senate at the 1910 federal election, where he shared the views of his Tasmanian colleagues that their state rarely seemed to receive a fair deal under Australian federal arrangements. He spoke up for Tasmania as a site for the Commonwealth Woollen Mills and raised as a matter of urgent public importance the issue of ‘the mail service to the State of Tasmania’. He questioned the seaworthiness of the vessels, pointed to their uncertain times of arrival and departure, and inquired about the need for a Commonwealth-owned mail service which would better serve the needs of the isolated island state and be a legitimate corollary of the transcontinental railway. He served as chairman of the select committee inquiry into the post office at Balfour, Tasmania. He referred to the problems felt by the disadvantaged, particularly Tasmanian rural labourers, among whom he had lived. In debate on the Tasmanian Grant Bill in 1912, he pressed for the full amount recommended by the royal commission on Tasmanian customs leakage. Long opposed financial outlay for the future federal capital as less important than posts and telegraphs or the development of the Northern Territory.

During the debates which preceded the double dissolution of 1914, Long, who was an able and powerful speaker, spoke against the Government’s intention to do away with preference to unionists. He considered that Australians had advanced ‘beyond the methods of industrial warfare adopted by other nations’. He spoke of the Government’s proposal to exempt rural workers from the operation of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act as ‘callous’. He claimed that he was a protectionist ‘up to the hilt’, and wanted a high duty on everything manufactured locally. He claimed the Liberal Party copied Labor in its approach to its party platform and attacked the Government for holding on to power by the casting vote of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.[3]

Long’s Senate term was scarred by two events connected with World War I. The first instance related to Prime Minister Hughes’ attempt in the face of a Labor-dominated Senate to extend the life of the Parliament until the end of the war. His strategy centred on the removal of three Labor senators, all Tasmanians, one of whom was Long. Long was an avowed anti-conscriptionist who, as a Roman Catholic, deeply resented accusations that Irish Catholics were shirking their responsibilities for the war. (Later, he spoke of his son, who was at the front and had ‘passed four birthdays away from his home’.) In February 1917, Long accepted Hughes’ offer of sole membership of a royal commission to investigate Australian trade prospects with the East Indies, and promptly left for Java, thereby aiding Hughes’ plan. On his return to the Senate, Long insisted that he had taken the trip because of his health, and that Senator Pearce had suggested that while he was away he undertake ‘a very special and important mission’. The Hobart Mercury headed its editorial ‘Inexorable Senatorial “Logic” ’. Despite all this, Long was a delegate at Labor’s interstate conference in 1918.[4]

The second incident brought his political career to an end. As a consequence of accusations of maladministration within the defence department, a royal commission was established. The commissioners found that in the purchases of a wireless works and two vessels, Jens Jensen, the Minister for the Navy, and yet another Tasmanian, had incurred expenditure ‘either without reference or in opposition to the Naval Board’. As a result, Jensen was removed from office on 13 December 1918. The commission’s investigations revealed Long’s receipt of a gratuity of at least £1290 from one Father A. J. Shaw, lessee of the wireless works, ‘as consideration for political influence used, or believed by Father Shaw to have been used’ in the pressuring of the Minister or the department. Long asserted that the money received from Shaw was merely ‘in recognition of their friendship’, and that other unusually large sums deposited in his bank account came from race winnings.

Long ruefully acknowledged that the finding reflected seriously upon him, and noted that the commission’s statements ‘though unsupported by evidence, have been accepted with as little hesitation by the members of my own party as by those on the Government side of the House’. He believed that he had no choice but to leave the Senate. Cynical observers suggested his resignation on 20 December 1918 was designed to forestall a predicted move to bar him from resuming his seat. For a time, the Commonwealth Government considered instituting criminal proceedings against him, but the matter was allowed to fade away.[5]

Long soon moved to Victoria. At different times, he owned the Powlett Hotel in Wonthaggi and a hotel in the New South Wales town of Temora, and was later in business in Melbourne. On 25 January 1893, he had married Rebecca, née Turnbull, at the Roman Catholic Church in Zeehan. The couple had a large family of five sons and three daughters. Long died at 14 Greville Street, Prahran, Melbourne, Victoria, on 23 December 1932, and was buried at Brighton Cemetery following a funeral service at St Francis Xavier Church in Prahran. His wife and daughters, Moya, Lyla and Mary, and sons, Leslie, Kevin, James and Charles, survived him.

‘Big Jim’ was a striking figure whose photograph fits Geoffrey Blainey’s description as ‘tall, broad-shouldered, with fierce eyes beneath bushy brows and a face full of strength’.[6]


Scott Bennett

[1] Daily Post (Hobart), 8 April 1910, p. 3; Ross McMullin, The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party 1891–1991, OUP, South Melbourne, Vic., 1991, pp. 40, 68; M. D. McRae, ‘Some Aspects of the Origins of the Tasmanian Labor Party’, THRAPP, vol. 3, April 1954, pp. 26–27; Mercury (Hobart), 5 June 1903, p. 2, 6 June 1903, p. 2, 8 June 1903, p. 5; Lloyd Robson, A History of Tasmania: Volume II, Colony and State from 1856 to the 1980s,OUP, Melbourne, 1991, pp. 218, 219, 232, 233, 258; D. J. Murphy (ed.), Labor in Politics: The State Labor Parties in Australia 1880–1920, UQP, St Lucia, Qld, 1975, pp. 398, 436; Geoffrey Blainey, The Peaks of Lyell, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1967, pp. 173–174, 204.

[2] THA, Journals, 5 September 1907; Mercury (Hobart), 6 September 1907, p. 5; TPP, Report of the royal commission on wages and wage-earners in Tasmania, 1907; THA, Journals, 30 October 1907; TPP, Report of the royal commission on the Tasmanian education department, 1909; Robson, A History of Tasmania, pp. 232, 233, 258.

[3] CPD, 11 September 1913, pp. 1115–1124, 18 December 1913, p. 4732, 25 July 1912, pp. 1233–1235; CPP, Report of the select committee on the post office, Balfour, Tasmania 1915; CPD, 11 September 1913, p. 1119, 30 October 1912, pp. 4820–4821; CPP, Report of the royal commission on Tasmanian customs leakage, 1911; CPD, 14 September 1910, pp. 3032–3033; Letter, Long to O’Malley, 12 January 1914, O’Malley Papers, MS 460/4990, NLA; CPD, 11 September 1913, pp. 1115–1124.

[4] CPD, 22 September 1916, p. 8840; Geoffrey Sawer, Australian Federal Politics and Law 1901–1929, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1956, pp. 130–131; Gavin Souter, Acts of Parliament, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1988, p. 152; Marilyn Lake, A Divided Society: Tasmania During World War I, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1975, p. 70; CPD, 23 January 1918, p. 3406; CPP, Report of the royal commission by J. J. Long on Java and the East Indies, Singapore and the Straits Settlements, 1918; CPD, 22 August 1917, pp. 1249–1252; Senate, Journals, 23 February 1917; Mercury (Hobart), 4 December 1917, p. 4; Richard Davis, Eighty Years’ Labor: The ALP in Tasmania, 1903–1983, Sassafras Books and University of Tasmania, Hobart, 1983, p. 120.

[5] Ernest Scott, Australia During the War, A & R, Sydney, 1943, pp. 277–285; CPP, Report of the royal commission on navy and defence administration, 1919; Mercury (Hobart), 12 December 1918, p. 4, 14 December 1918, p. 7, 21 December 1918, p. 6; CPD, 19 December 1918, pp. 9795–9797.

[6] Wonthaggi Sentinel, 6 January 1932, p. 3; Mercury (Hobart), 24 December 1932, p. 6; McMullin, The Light on the Hill, p. 40; Blainey, The Peaks of Lyell, p. 203; Photograph of mock joust between Long and Arthur Rae, NLA. 


This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 1, 1901-1929, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Vic., 2000, pp. 245-248.

LONG, James Joseph (1870-1932)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, Tas., 1910–18


Tasmanian Parliament

Member of the House of Assembly, Lyell, 1903–09; Darwin, 1909–10

Senate Committee Service

House Committee, 1910–18

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1910–18

Select Committee on the Fitzroy Dock,1913

Select Committee on Post Office, Balfour, Tasmania, 1915